From the Front Lines: A Follow-Up on the Slut Walk Movement

By Katie, 5:27 am

A few weeks ago I posted about the SlutWalk movement and the notion that a victim of sexual assault is never to blame for her (or his) attack. That post is still garnering attention and new comments; I should have known you all enjoy a little controversy!

As a follow-up, today I am featuring this guest post from my fellow blogger The Writing Goddess, who actively participated in the LA SlutWalk last weekend. She shares her experience and her opinions, and please be aware that some of it may be triggering. I decided to share it because of my passion for raising awareness about sexual assault, and I invite you to continue sharing your opinions so that we can further the dialogue on this issue.
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Saturday night.  You’ve got a date, or maybe a party, hoping that cute guy from algebra will be there.  You’re tearing through the closet, anxiously looking for something to wear that will not make you look fat.  You find something that makes you feel pretty and sexy.  You put it on, add makeup and jewelry and fix your hair,  feeling happy, excited about the evening.

But wait!  Here’s something else to worry about.  Are you too sexy now?  Because if you look “like a slut,” and you get sexually assaulted, it’s all (or at least partly) your fault.

At least, that’s what some people, even some police officers who shouldknow better, think.  That “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” 

The problem is not that this was a dumb thing to say; it’s that it’s a dumb thing to think.  It’s a societal message that most girls and women have internalized, to the point where we pass some pretty harsh judgments not only on ourselves, but on one another, too.

I’ve posted on busting the myths here and here and I just got back from Slutwalk LA, which was a wonderfully, empowering experience.

Now, what some critics have said about SlutWalk is that it’s just about a bunch of young women dressing up in revealing clothing to no purpose.  I only attended this one, but I’ve read the info on the sites, and only the most superficial person could so easily dismiss them.

Just as only a superficial person or, perhaps, a clandestine rapist could dismiss all rapes which are not forcible as “not really rape.”  (Well, those people and the FBI, who officially only counts “forcible carnal knowledge of a female” or such attempts as rape, which excludes drugged victims, and victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape, and male rape.  If you think that all rapes should be counted by the FBI, click here.)

One speaker at the SlutWalk was a young woman raped in college six years ago.  She never reported the report to the police, because… she felt ashamed.  That it must be her fault.  This was the first time she told her story to a group of more than six people, so she was a bit nervous.  (Sidenote: one out of every five college women, and many man have been sexually assaulted, either during or before college.  Half of them have told no one.)

This young woman had been dating this young man for several weeks.  He was “classroom cute” and attentive.  Protective.  He would walk her to her car every night, to make sure she was safe.  She liked and trusted  him, and yes, felt attracted to him.  Then one night when they were at his place, he drugged her and raped her.

I got a much clearer picture of what roofies do, from her story and that of another speaker, who was also drugged.  First, you get violently sick, and then after throwing up, you black out.  Later, you recover consciousness while the monster who drugged you is raping you.  You’re conscious of everything that is going on, but your body is like a limp rag doll, you can’t move, you can’t scream, you simply have to be present as your body is moved and rearranged to facilitate your violation in whatever sick way the rapist chooses.

The pain and the bewilderment in her voice still brings me to tears.  As she related, she liked this guy.  Quite possibly she would have been willing to have consensual sex with him later that night, but instead, he chose to rape her.  He chose.  He planned it out in advance, procuring the drugs, and he chose to put them in her drink, and nothing she wore that night or any other would have made the slightest bit of difference.

Slutwalk is about rejecting the blame that we are raped because we have “failed” in some way.  We have dressed too sexily; we have failed to constantly guard our drink, we have mistakenly trusted someone.  (Message being, trust no one?  Ever?)  Slutwalk is calling bullshit on the lie that the victim is responsible for being sexually assaulted.  The person responsible for rape is the rapist.

Yes, there were some scantily dressed women (and men) at Slutwalk LA I attended.  Also moms pushing babies in strollers, and bearded men wearing “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” T-shirts and women in business suits and transgender people in various costumes.  The message of the many wonderful speakers was that sexual assault hurts people: people of every color, gender, size, age, and profession, and is never the fault of the victim.

Slutwalk is about redefining the word slut, which was always a subjective judgment anyway, from a derogatory association to a positive affirmation.  It’s not suggesting that women should wear scanty clothing, or modest clothing and headscarves, but affirming our right as human beings to make that choice for ourselves.  We choose what we will wear.  We choose what we will eat.  We choose whether we say yes to many, to few, or to none.  We choose when, or if, we will bear children.

We are sluts, and proud of it.

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A thank you to The Writing Goddess for sharing her experience!

Any comments or opinions you’d like to add about the Slut Walk movement in general? Have you heard any more about it since I last posted on the topic?

8 Responses to “From the Front Lines: A Follow-Up on the Slut Walk Movement”

  1. First, thank you so much, Katie, for allowing me to share here on your site. As you wrote, I know this is triggering for many – and I am sorry about that. I hope someday we can get to a time where sexual assault isn’t so common.

    I wanted to share, too another particularly ugly way that the myth “rape is for sexual satisfaction” hurts women.

    Many rapists are married, or have a girlfriend, with whom they have a “normal” sex life. When they assault another woman – especially if that woman is NOT conventionally pretty (maybe she’s overweight, underweight, etc.,)and get caught, he will often claim his victim is a slut who “threw herself” at him. Because of the rape myth, he’s believed, because why would he want hamburger when he’s got steak at home?

    So the victim is not only sexually assaulted, she is blamed (for being a slut) and perhaps even ridiculed because she may not appear as attractive as her attacker’s regular partner. RAPE IS ABOUT VIOLENCE, NOT ABOUT SEX.

    If you, like so many, have ever been attacked, know that it was not your fault. No matter what you did or wore.

    • Katie says:

      Such a great point. It reminds me of a post I wrote a few weeks ago about the horrible things overweight people are told…one woman shared that after being raped, the police officer investigating made some comment like “who would rape YOU?” A comment like that is wrong and horrific on so many levels.

      Thank you again for sharing this post!

  2. Thank you, Katie and The Writing Goddess, for this and your previous post. I work on a college campus doing power-based personal violence (sexual assault, intimate partner violence & stalking) prevention and intervention work. One thing I really like about this piece is that it emphasizes that sexual assault is most often calcualted. Many people believe that myth that sexual assault is about “miscommunication” or two people being drunk. The research data, however, does not support that. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more to consult the incredible work of Dr. David Lisak (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124272157). Anyone who is interested in learning more about campus assaults specifically might like to read the Center for Public Integrity’s in-depth reports from last year (http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/campus_assault/)

    • Katie says:

      Thank you, Anna, for sharing these resources and for the important work that you do.

  3. Tamara says:

    Like the first commenter said, rape has very little to do with sex. It’s all about power and domination. How sexy a woman dresses has little to do with whether she’s picked as a target. Imagine you’re a rapist looking for prey, and you’re at a bar. There’s a shapely woman in a slinky dress and heels who’s confident and aware of herself, who will talk to the men approaching her but doesn’t accept drinks and obviously has her standards. Then there’s a woman dressed conservatively, but exudes nervousness; she shrinks back and just goes along with whatever her friends say, and doesn’t know what to do when men approach her. Which one do you think you’ll pick to attack?

    Like any other predator, rapists choose victims they think will be easy to dominate. They’re looking for women who hesitate to assert themselves, who trust them or fear them, who won’t fight back until it’s too late. Of course, I’m not saying all victims of sexual assault are weak, but as a matter of self defense, how you present yourself to strangers is much more important than your choice of clothes.

  4. Teddi says:

    I do agree with Tamara that to some degree, it is more about how someone presents themselves is more important then even how they dress. However, I am hesitant to say that strong, confident women are less likely to be sexually assaulted–I’m not so sure this is the case, mostly because many of my girlfriends who have been raped/sexually assaulted also happen to be assertive, confident, strong individuals. (and then I have other friends, who are very sexually shy, conservative and quiet, who have never–as far as I know, been assaulted) While I understand the IDEA that how you present yourselves to strangers is important, I think that such a philosophy can be driven too far, and similar to the dress issue, it can eventually morph into the notion that it is ultimately the victim’s responsibility to not get raped, and if they don’t do the right thing to prevent it, well, then “it’s just their own stupid fault”. I am not saying that is where you are coming from, but I can such a mindset like that eventually forming.

    Ultimately, I believe that rape and sexual assault is a crime. Period. It is not technically not women’s responsibility to “prevent” rape–it is men’s responsibility not to rape. While I am active in women’s issues and campaigns, I fully know that technically, the only people who can stop rape are the rapists themselves.

    P.S. There is also the very disturbing reality that some rapists/abusers DO go for women who appear assertive and confident; it is the strange thrill of being able to “put them in their place”. In a documentary called “TOUGH GUISE” (relatively recent), men are anonymously interviewed and many of them said that when they see a very confident girl who they perceive to be “snooty” or “too good” for them, they want to hurt her. (those are my words–what they said was much more graphic and horrific) While that’s a sad idea, I state it just to make clear that it is not only weak, passive girls who become victims.

    • Teddi says:

      *It is technically NOT

      • Katie says:

        I agree with you, Teddi; I think that any discussion of what kinds of women or clothing or behaviors are more likely to “instigate” sexual assault is problematic. It’s a slippery slope, and takes the attention away from where the discussion should be – on the perpetrators. Like you say, I don’t think this is what Tamara was saying, exactly, but I agree that we need to be careful.

        Somehow I totally missed that you have a blog! I’m so sorry! Looking forward to following you. :)

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